This 1985 B-Movie comedy horror film was born from of a split between George A Romero and John Russo after “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) (read more about that later). Described as a “mordant punk comedy”, this zombie film broke a lot of the established rules created in other zombie films. The first time I watched it I was in shock and awe at what I was watching, after re-watched it numerous times I realized that I had fallen in love with it.
Brief Summary: A warehouse accident leaves a small group of people dealing with the consequences of a zombie outbreak.
Detailed Summary: At an unassuming warehouse, a foreman is trying to impress new employees by showing them military drums that have accidentality wound up there. Unfortunately, he releases a toxic gas which reanimates the dead, starting with a body that is in the meat locker. In an attempt to cover up the mishap they take things into their own hand, but it would seem that every part of the zombie can work independently. Further trying to fix the issue they persuade the local (maybe) ex-Nazi mortician to burn the cadaver, but this only makes things worse as a toxic cloud of zombie moisture is released into the atmosphere – queue toxic zombie making rain falling on the local cemetery. A group of local punk kids happen to be in the cemetery at the time, so they are immediately mixed up in the chaos. With no hope in sight, and no relief offered by the local emergency services or the military, there seems to be only one solution – but will it come to using nuclear weapons?
Film Stuff: When George A Romero and John Russo parted ways after “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), John Russo retained the rights to any future film where the titles mentioned “Living Dead”. Romero went the route of “Dawn of the Dead” (1978) and “Day of the Dead” (1985), meanwhile Russo went full steam ahead doing “Living Dead” movies such as this. Written by Rudy Ricci (who was a zombie in some of the Romero zombie films), Russel Reiner (who was Johnny at the start of “Night of the Living Dead” (1968)), and John Russo (co-writer on “Night of the Living Dead” (1968)). The screenplay was done by Dan O’Bannon (writer on “Alien” (1979) and “Aliens” (1986)).
Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” & “Poltergeist” (1982)), was initially brought in to direct, but he took a sideways step into the driving seat for “Lifeforce” which was scripted by the same name who is credited for screenwriting here, Dan O’Bannon. When Hooper stepped away O’Bannon was offered the chance to direct this, which he did, under the condition that he could rewrite the script significantly. It took him four months to do that, and as part of the rewrite he wanted to bring in a lot of dark and morbid humour.
The film cost $4 million to make and went on to gross $14.2 million worldwide. It had a runtime of 92 minutes and was released by Orion Pictures. Cinematography was by Jules Brenner and Robert Gordon stepped into the editing seat. The musical score was led by Matt Clifford and Francis Haines and also featured lots of legendary punk rock and death metal bands from Los Angeles who were tearing up the scene at the time, including The Cramps, The Flesh Eaters, The Damned, and SSQ.
Cast: The cast in the film was a mishmash of people, some faces from TV, some from film, and some people with a little experience of Broadway too. Unless you really know film though, you aren’t going to be able to recognise many of the names. One thing I can say though, is that they are perfect for this film.
Leading the cast, Clu Gulager played Burt, James Karen played Frank and Don Calfa played Ernie. All having fun roles that helped drive the comedy in the film forward. They are occasionally serious but more often than not they are bumbling through the film as idiot ‘any man’ characters. I enjoyed them all thoroughly.
Wrap up: This is one of the rare films that manages to do over-the-top horror and gore with black humour mixed in. It takes what was a tried and tested zombie film formula and refreshes it for a younger fast-food audience. This film features brain-eating zombies instead of just the undead who want to eat any part of living flesh. In this, zombies have more pace and ferocity – it wasn’t “28 Days Later” that had the first running zombies – they are here!
The undead can talk (“Send more paramedics”, “Send more cops”, & “braains”) and have independent thought to motivate their actions. In addition, when these zombies are torn apart, their limbs are just as active as zombie heads. Importantly too, you cannot just shoot the zombie in the head to kill it – in this it takes a lot lot more.
This film has a fast and frantic pace and never lets up with it action of gore, no long and boring explanations here, and better yet, the good guys don’t win. It’s high camp in true 80’s style and almost drips with neon poison thanks to some lovely cinematography and effects. It never takes itself too seriously and because it is self-aware is almost winks at the audience when the cast of survivors turn another corner only to be confronted with yet another “oh sh1t” moment.
This is an unappreciated and forgotten classic. People that dismiss this as a poor rip-off of Romero’s films have missed out in a big way. They are also likely to argue that Romero’s films were the standard, but when this went head to head with Romero’s second film, this actually came out better at the box office. It wouldn’t be fair to say this is better because both are epic, but this film was made for different audience, the forgotten misfits, the coke-cola, fast-food generation that liked things fast, hard, and messy. To make things more interesting, this is a spoof film, before spoof films were really a thing. If you are a fan of zombies, violence, gore, horror, dark humour, punk rock, and fun times, then I really implore you to give this a try… Unless you are on the younger side of course – this film is definitely not for the younger audiences. At its release this ran into numerous problems getting a release and was even considered a “video nasty” for a while. Nowadays it is available to buy on DVD (or whatever modern format you want) with an 18-rating.
This film holds a place in my heart, it filled my eyes with joy and my brain with a fascination for blood curdling funny films. Sharing the same genre as films like “Re-Animator” (1985), “Evil Dead 2” (1987), and “Braindead” (1992), all I can say is – Get on it!